Environmental organisations criticise BSI standard accrediting ‘litterable’ plastics
Environmental coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link and RECOUP have criticised a new standard for biodegradation of polyolefins.
The BSI’s PAS 9017:2020, Plastics – Biodegradation of polyolefins in an open-air terrestrial environment – Specification is a standard which seeks to support the use of a solution which allows for both conventional and non-conventional plastics to be littered in the open-air terrestrial environment.
Biotransformation technology firm Polymateria said its technology breaks down the most littered forms of plastic in real-world conditions and claims to leave behind zero microplastics.
Polymateria has recently secured £15m funding to accelerate rollout of its technology.
On a range of the most-littered forms of packaging – polyethylene and polypropylene – Polymateria has recently had independent third-party laboratory testing which achieved 100% biodegradation on a rigid plastic container in 336 days and film material in 226 days.
Additionally, it says the technology has also been proven at independent labs to have no impact on relevant recycling streams at scale.
The standard had a working title of ’Specification for the biodegradation of plastics in the case of littering in the natural environment’. This PAS is intended to enable claims of “biodegradable in the terrestrial environment” and essentially confirm that the material/product ‘is litterable’.
Leading waste and environmental organisations including RECOUP and The Environmental Services Association (ESA) wrote to the BSI, insisting this standard “will increase the prevalence of litter in all environments thus increasing the already unacceptable associated social, environmental and economic costs associated with litter. The act of littering is illegal and littered plastics are not only a huge societal burden but a resource lost from recycling and recovery”.
Wildlife and Countryside Link said the concept of being able to throw litter and assume it will biodegrade therefore supports the continued use of plastics in society at an unsustainable rate; “We do not support solutions where any plastic, even biodegradable plastic, ends up in nature” said the organisation.
Its main issues with the standard are that lab testing does not accurately reflect how these materials will perform in real-world conditions. A ban on oxo-degradable plastics enters into force in June 2021 across the whole EU under the Single-Use Plastics Directive. This includes the UK who voted for it in 2018.
It also supports a ban on the sale of “Oxo-degradable plastics (which) are conventional polymers (e.g. LDPE) to which chemicals are added to precipitate the oxidation and fragmentation of the material under the action of oxygen, accelerated by UV light and/or heat.”
The group added that the biodegradation of plastic covered by this PAS excludes key environments including “freshwater, marine, landfill and anaerobic environments of biodegradation” and does not account for “the effect of marine pollution, such as bioaccumulation of plastics and its effect on biodiversity”.
It said with the principles of a circular economy ae also undermined , “Based on these points, we are unable to support the publication of this draft PAS and request that it is withdrawn”.
Wildlife and Countryside Link features 57 organisations including the CPRE, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Keep Britain Tidy, Greenpeace, and WWF-UK.